This recipe turns the popular Thai dish of grapow gai (also known as pad kra gao), spicy basil chicken into fried rice with a sweet and spicy easy sauce made from just 3 ingredients. Oyster sauce, soy sauce and fish sauce are blended together and paired with basil leaves both in the rice and crispy leaves garnished on top. The chicken in this recipe can easily be swapped out for meat like thinly sliced beef or shrimp instead. This take on Thai fried rice with chicken and basil comes together quickly and easily for a weeknight dinner using simple ingredients.
Vegetable oil is a neutral oil meaning it doesn’t have it’s own flavor. As a result it doesn’t overpower the other flavors in this dish. It also has a higher smoking point than say olive oil. This makes it a better choice to use to stir fry the rice.
Shallots have a mild, slightly sweet flavor. If needed yellow or red onion can be swapped in. The general rule of thumb is 3 medium shallots equal 1 medium onion.
Bell peppers are sweet with mild flavor. They don’t have any heat but add a sweet flavor, especially when sautéed. The colors of bell pepper differ based on maturity – it comes down to the time of harvesting. Red bell peppers are fully ripe. They can be substituted with another color of bell pepper in this recipe as the difference is subtle.
As the garlic is sautéed the flavor mellows so it’s not very pungent but adds a base flavor that complements the sautéed shallot and sweet sauce.
Bird’s eye chilies or Thai chilies are small, pointy chili peppers that pack a punch. They add an intense heat with fruity flavor to dishes rating between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville units. They can sometimes be difficult to find so I usually buy a large bag of them at them at my local Asian market. I store the chilies in the freezer in a resealable plastic bag. It’s actually even easier to cut them when they are frozen.
I use chicken thighs in this recipe because they are both a cheaper cut as well as an extremely flavorful. If swapping in chicken breasts I would recommend slicing them thinner so they cook more quickly and don’t dry out.
Most Thai recipes use jasmine rice but this recipe calls for basic long-grain white rice (probably the most common variety of rice). Any medium to long grain rice variety can easily be substituted. I generally use whatever type of rice I happen to have leftover.
Oyster sauce is made from a combination of caramelized oyster juices, salt and sugar, sometimes soy sauce and often a thickening agent like cornstarch. It’s a dark, syrupy sauce with a salty and sweet flavor less pungent and fishy than fish sauce.
I use reduced sodium soy sauce so that I can control the amount of salt in the recipe, adding more if needed.
I love the funky umami flavor fish sauce adds to any dish. It’s a great way to enhance the flavor of curries or even chicken wings. The flavor comes from a process of fermenting fish over a long period of time.
Both light or dark brown sugar can be used in this recipe. The sugar is added to balance the flavors or the soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce. It can be substituted with granulated sugar if needed.
Gra pao gai is traditionally made with Thai holy basil. I can sometimes find in Asian markets, but I use sweet basil (the bright-green type with cup-shaped leaves you usually find in grocery stores) in this recipe since it’s much more easily accessible. Thai holy basil has a peppery, slightly sour flavor while sweet basil is, well, sweeter.
Day old rice is optimal for cooking fried rice since it has dried out a bit. When making fried rice the goal is to fry it so it’s a bit crispy and absorbs the rice rather than steaming it to the point that it is mushy. While day-old rice isn’t required it definitely makes for the best texture.
If you don’t have leftover rice you can mimic the dried rice by spreading the cooked rice in an even layer on a baking sheet and refrigerating it for an hour or freezing it for about 15 minutes.
If you enjoy this fried rice, I would recommend giving these recipes a try:
Use a wok if you have one! It has more surface area so everything heats quickly and evenly. The sloped sides also contain most of the splatter that can occur when cooking at a high heat. If you don’t have a wok I recommend a large cast iron skillet for the best fried rice.
Yes! Any medium to long grain rice will do!
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